Vancouver Race Riot: Labour Day Week 1907


A crowd gathered to protest non-white immigration in Vancouver after Labour Day in 1907. They marched up Georgia Street turned on Granville and came down Hastings to City Hall on Main Street where they burned Lieutenant Governor James Dunsmuir in effigy. Dunsmuir represented an earlier multicultural British Columbia governed by the Hudson Bay Company. He had hired Chinese in his coal mine and had refused to give Royal Assent to racist legislation. Governor James Douglas was part black and married to an Aboriginal woman. He led a group of British and Canadian based companies and had welcomed hundreds of black and Hawaiian people fleeing discrimination in the US. The march was organized by the Asiatic Exclusion League created by US labor unions to stop Japanese, Chinese and Korean immigration. AE Fowler had led the Seattle Labor Day Parade and then went to Bellingham where he incited a race riot by white workers forcing 250 Sikhs out of town. Many went north where Governor General Earl Grey asked that Sikh workers be given sanctuary on Canadian soil as they were subjects of the King. Fowler then crossed the Canadian border to Vancouver where Mayor Bethune and his Electoral Union Council slate had voted to host an Anti-Chinese rally at City Hall. Fowler gave a speech 2,000 inside then went outside and spoke to another 7,000 about the Bellingham Riot. Someone moved a motion that Asians be removed from Vancouver as well. The crowd shouted its approval. The mob swung into action. They marched into Chinatown breaking everything they could. Later they turned on Japantown but the Japanese were prepared and fought back. On Monday all Chinese in the city went on strike. It wasn’t until Wednesday that the city was functioning again. The Vancouver Race Riot reverberated around the world. The East India Company the sister of the Hudson Bay Company had governed India for years, but only with the support of Sikh soldiers. The Vancouver Race Riot and its aftermath alienated these soldiers and ultimately ended the British Raj. Vancouver’s Race Riot triggered Canada’s War on Drugs. Under the previous Hudson Bay Company government there was no prohibition; Opium was legal but heavily taxed. The Knights of Labor denied membership to anyone in the alcohol industry and their rioters destroyed the opium equipment in Chinatown. The federal investigation of the riot led Canada to declare opium and later other drugs illegal. Pressure had been building for years. BC’s first Labour Organization the Working Men’s Protective Association had changed its name to the Anti Chinese Association. It organized a petition of seventeen hundred names for a Chinese Head Tax submitted by Amor De Cosmos. In 1891 the Vancouver Labour Council called for an end to Chinese immigration. Judge Begbie, a remnant of British Columbia’s multicultural past under the Hudson Bay Company, had thrown out much racist legislation. It was only after he died in 1894 that the 1895 Chinese Head Tax could be implemented. For decades no politician would dare oppose the racism that led to the 1907 Race Riot. But its effects were felt for years here and beyond British Columbia.

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